Monday, December 21, 2009

LOST and Found

[Modified from posting on]

When I got serious about personal development education, my eyes were opened to the concept of classical learning, or learning through the Liberal Arts. My introduction was an article by Mortimer J. Adler entitled "Education for All," which made clear for me something that I had long had a sense of, but was unable to articulate. My vision for FITmedia is essentially to "sophisticate" people to the principles and concepts of the classics, but to start them at a level accessible to the average American (i.e.: movies and television). By assembling a consortium of like minds, we will naturally acquire the resources needed to develop an intermediate form of classic. Our writers and creators need to be well-versed in classical learning for this idea to gain traction.

One of the reasons that I got so excited about this article is that it confirmed my belief in the importance of immersive serial fiction, the best example of which is ABC's "LOST." If there's a shining ray of hope for television it's "LOST." I'll cut right to the point: the Executive Producers, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are avid readers. Though, not everything they've cited as influential to this story is a classic, there certainly is a wealth of philosophy embodied in the show. In fact, as an ode to their scholarship, they've even named key characters after philosophers: John Locke, a man who feels he's found his purpose on the Island, named for the English philosopher and originator of Natural Law theory; Jeremy Bentham, an alias, named for the father of Utilitarianism; and Edmund Burke, named for the founder of modern conservatism. Also referenced in names are Jean-Jaques Rousseau, David Hume, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Michael Faraday, and Stephen Hawking.

Told in a non-linear fashion with flashbacks, the show is about the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island, their lives leading up to the crash, and the tangled web of relationships between them. The integrity of the story is dependent upon the viewer watching every episode in order, as it's more like a long movie than a TV series. But, you can easily find a promotional synopsis for that info. What's difficult to market to the masses is that it has a character-driven story, rather than a plot-driven story, and that it deals with such subject matter as leadership, destiny, fate, faith, and the conflict between science and faith. While I don't consider it genre-fiction, LOST plays heavily upon themes of pseudo-science (or lite SCI FI) and mystery to tell its stories.

The show's producer, J.J. Abrams is quoted as saying, "Mystery is the catalyst for imagination." A story that evokes the viewer's imagination, set in a universe where nearly anything is possible, creates a platform for discussion. Pair that with a firm knowledge of truth through classic literature, and you have a POWERFUL, important body of contemporary fiction. I think it's fitting to consider Einstein's quote, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." The viewer needn't know the truth to become a fan, but through watching, his curiosity and imagination will lead him to the truth in the story, and I believe, foster a hunger for more. So do the show's producers, apparently, as they have made available for the show's uberfans (such as I am) a LOST reading list, which suggests further READING.

The most amazing thing about the show, and the reason it ties so well into what I see happening with social networking and independent film in the future, is that my wife and I actually felt compelled to aggressively share this experience with people. We grew a small following, and had weekly get-togethers to watch and DISCUSS the show. And it's not just us. Across the world, the same thing is happening organically. Imagine that! Television that actually encourages networking, discussion, and THINKING! I'm convinced it's because the writers are avid readers.

After I finished my first film (which wasn't important or literary), I was armed with the belief that ANYONE could make a film by simply using what is already available and some creativity. I still believe that today, however, when I got into college (to pursue my liberal education) I found I no longer had the time to write, much less produce, another film. As you can imagine, this caused some distress: how was education supposed to help me make films, if I was able to do it before, but unable during and after college.

I was aware that networking was imperative to making films independently. Even when I found enthusiastic people, I also found they had little time outside work and school. I was sure that if we could just make a film, a grass-roots effort could make us all money. I knew a little about the concept of "viral marketing," and had the thought that it would be great if we could get paid for the promotional work we were doing for LOST naturally! It was at that time, that I was introduced to the concept of "commerce through community," and saw its potential. Then along came a phenomenal relational marketing opportunity, which proved that a great product would spread like wildfire if the customers (or fans) were allowed to earn compensation for the sharing they would naturally do anyway!

I see a connection between quality, literary fiction; endorsing a great, worthwhile product; and the natural formation of communities around both products that will INCREASE our national economy AND national intelligence quotient. The reality is that this is the Information Age way to operate the media, rather than government's subsidization of business failures and advertising's subsidization of entertainment failures. I think a consortium of leaders as passionate as I am about this, can duplicate these profound results.

Let us change the future.

So How Do We Discover Truth?

"The role of the media is to disseminate information, highlight important current events, and to essentially stand as a witness, an observer of cultural, political, community, and educational events. A healthy media provides a check on the government and increases the political astuteness of republican citizens."
- Stephen Palmer, The Center for Social Leadership

If Mr. Palmer's statement of the vast importance of media is correct, then does it not naturally follow that the information ought to be true? Does he leave any space for "moral flexibility?" Shouldn't the goal of media creators be to capture the truth as clearly as possible, be their craft documentary or fiction? Isn't the value of anything—product or story—hidden in its quality? So how is it that large, bureaucratic organizations seem to obscure truth in favor of "political correctness" or other similar nonsense, yet seem to profit greatly anyway?

At this point in human history, the playing field as been leveled like never before. Not only has the advancement of technology brought powerful tools into the hands of the people (not the least of which is digital media solutions for video and audio), but it has brought us a limitless marketplace in which to share our ideas. Such unfettered access to informational exchange should make us the wisest of all human generations...

And yet, we are overwhelmed with so much information, that we lack the ability to understand what, in fact, constitutes wisdom. The fact that we lack the capacity to discern good information from bad information leaves us accepting the information most easily accessible (mass media, or the media that caters to what we most want to hear). I believe it is fair to say, that what we want to hear and what is right and true, are not always the same thing. In fact, I would hazard the assertion that they are rarely the same thing.

So how do we discover truth? The first way is to study classics: great books that have already stood the test of time, and commentary books written by people who have mined them for principles and found greatness as a result. The second is to associate with great men and women, either directly through mentorship, or indirectly through video and audio recordings. The third is to experience life for yourself through direct contact with "the masses." This is especially true when you are pursuing some specific purpose.

The fourth (being what FITmedia aims to achieve), combines these other three in an objective manner. What I mean is this: if all media transfers information, and all information should ideally be true, then all media creators should want to know the truth in order to capture it. If the first three methods of discovery are all viable perspectives on truth, then all three are required for a complete picture of truth. It has been said that the best way to learn is to teach. Therefore, a collaborative attempt to capture real life in story form would naturally reveal truth.

The ultimate product, I believe, would be one of refined purity. One that would not only stand the test of time, but be an ideal specimen for people to emulate. And not only would it benefit culture for people to emulate it, but it would be accessible enough to the layman, that anyone could emulate it.

The secret lies not only in the form of an immersive series, or in the maturity of the written character development, but also in the ability for an unparalleled level of fan interaction. In essence, the wisest of the viewers would be able to rise to the level of creator.

Now how's that for a slice of fried gold?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Spirit of Consumerism

I've been studying a lot of media lately, and I came to the realization that the prevailing force in media (which shapes our world) is an attitude or "spirit" of consumerism. Of course, that's not really an astounding observation on the first pass. We have to look deeper to find the problem.

I think we're all aware that media needs revenue to create an output, as with any legitimate business. Premium channels charge an up front fee to accomplish this, but when companies want to decrease or eliminate the up front costs to customers, they connect the media with products. It's a genius idea, but I believe it is broken.

I return your attention to the spirit of consumerism. Interestingly, defines "consumerism" in three very different ways:
1. A policy of protecting and informing consumers through honesty in advertising and packaging, improved safety standards, etc.
2. A materialistic attachment to possessions.
3. An economic theory that increased consumption is beneficial to a nation's economy in the long run.
I believe, though I've not yet done extensive research, that the operating assumptions of mainstream media are more heavily based upon the last one, and as a result, create programming to develop communities of people who are of the second persuasion (ie: materialistic). This is what I mean by a "spirit of consumerism." It is not official policy, it is not necessarily discussed, it just grows naturally out of the mindset this theory creates.

What if this theory is wrong? What if consumption is, by itself, a reduction and not growth? Now, obviously, consumption and production go hand-in-hand, but isn't the net goal production? Is that not growth? Consumers are important, for without them, the results of production would be without value. But just as production with no end consumer amounts to waste, consumption with no end production leads to deficit. So, what I am saying is that there needs to be a drive not for consumers, but producers. Producers will naturally consume as they proceed to build growth.

This is all very abstract, and what is the point? The point is, that modern media violates the first definition of consumerism because it creates an environment where appearance (of person or product) is more important than inner value. We are encouraged to be superficial, letting rot our core values through lack of use. Products compete for shiniest packaging, not greatest value.

Ultimately, a smarter consumer is the beginning of fixing the cycle, but this can scarcely be achieved by itself. By definition a producer is a smarter consumer because, to make a profit, he must refine his knowledge of economics (he must understand the real value of what he's buying).

The high aim of commercial programming is "viral marketing," which I will not discuss deeply here. Basically, it would be ideal for advertisers and media creators that the consumers would not only buy the products, but also go out and share the products with others. What they want is free residual marketing.

If they paid the consumers a share of what they pay the advertisers, would that not solve all the problems?

Friday, August 21, 2009

"The Stranger"

I heard this story read at a convention and had to find it to share. Whatever your personal beliefs, I encourage you to consider what shaped those beliefs or contributed to a lack of belief. It is important that we guard our thoughts regarding truth. Biased information from the right source can, in an instant, make destructive ideas seem attractive through the use of omission and misrepresentation of truth.

No one is right because they say they are right. It is my opinion that free thinking requires a commitment to frequent, if not constant, evaluation of new information and old wisdom. It is imperative that we seek to discover whether our personal constitutions should be amended in light of the new information, or if the new information ought to be discarded.

As in this story, many families use the Holy Bible as their moral compass, though there are libraries of classical literature that contain the same principles of wisdom. Maybe you don't believe in the Bible, but decide what you believe and be mindful of that which goes against it.

A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later.

As I grew up I never questioned his place in our family. In my young mind, each member had a special niche. My brother, Bill, five years my senior, was my example. Fran, my younger sister, gave me an opportunity to play 'big brother' and develop the art of teasing. My parents were complementary instructors-- Mom taught me to love the word of God, and Dad taught me to obey it.

But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries and comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spell-bound for hours each evening.

If I wanted to know about politics, history, or science, he knew it all. He knew about the past, understood the present, and seemingly could predict the future. The pictures he could draw were so life like that I would often laugh or cry as I watched.

He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Bill and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars. My brother and I were deeply impressed by John Wayne in particular.

The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn't seem to mind, but sometimes Mom would quietly get up-- while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places-- go to her room, read her Bible and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave.

You see, my dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt obligation to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our house-- not from us, from our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge the stranger was never confronted. My dad was a teetotaler who didn't permit alcohol in his home - not even for cooking. But the stranger felt like we needed exposure and enlightened us to other ways of life. He offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages often.

He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. He talked freely (probably too much too freely) about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I know now that my early concepts of the man-woman relationship were influenced by the stranger.

As I look back, I believe it was the grace of God that the stranger did not influence us more. Time after time he opposed the values of my parents. Yet he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave.

More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Morningside Drive. He is not nearly so intriguing to my Dad as he was in those early years. But if I were to walk into my parents' den today, you would still see him sitting over in a corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.

His name? We always just called him TV.

Told by Keith Currie

Saturday, July 25, 2009

News Media and Reality TV

Today's media is like a cartel that traffics in bad news and bad habits. "News" isn't relevant information, but a paranoia-inducing sample of the worst mankind has to offer. And "Reality TV" is not reality, but a contrivance of shallow people, meant to make us feel better about our own poor behavior.

When are we as a society going to collectively wake up to the fact that these influences BECOME the culture? To the degree that we are inundated with the negative aspects of modern culture, we are justified in any actions or behaviors that are not quite as bad. The result of what could be called "mass programming" is that this effect is almost universal in our culture. People will rise to the level of what is expected of them. If nothing is expected, then they will sink to the level of their self-respect.

If the bar is continually lowered on the threshold of decency (i.e.: the representation of immature behavior on reality TV), then the expectation that society will behave any better also lowers. And this is a downward spiral: producers of mass media will not change the direction and risk losing the audience that their sponsors pay so dearly for. So they continue to seek cheaper means of producing entertainment, of which I can scarcely imagine two cheaper than News Media and Reality TV.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Media is a Weapon

Welcome to the official blog site for FITmedia!  This will serve as an area to launch ideas related to media redevelopment.  Mass media is a weapon, and it is in the wrong hands.